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Captain James A. Baker of Houston, 1857-1941

Kate Sayen Kirkland

Publication Year: 2012

Captain James A. Baker, Houston lawyer, banker, and businessman, received an alarming telegram on September 23, 1900: his elderly millionaire client William Marsh Rice had died unexpectedly in New York City. Baker rushed to New York, where he unraveled a plot to murder Rice and plunder his estate. Working tirelessly with local authorities, Baker saved Rice’s fortune from more than one hundred claimants; he championed the wishes of his deceased client and founded Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art—today’s internationally acclaimed Rice University. ?For fifty years Captain Baker nurtured Rice’s dream. He partnered with leading lawyers to create Houston’s first nationally recognized law firm: Baker, Botts, Lovett & Parker, now the worldwide legal practice of Baker Botts L.L.P. He chartered several Houston businesses and utility companies, developed two major regional banks, promoted real estate projects, and led an active civic life. To expand the Institute’s endowment, Baker invested William Marsh Rice’s fortune with local entrepreneurs, who were building homes, office towers, commercial enterprises, and institutions that transformed Houston from a small town in the nineteenth century to an international powerhouse in the twenty-first century. ?Author Kate Sayen Kirkland explored the archival records of Baker and his family and firm and carefully mined the archives of Baker’s contemporaries. Published as part of Rice University’s centennial celebration, Captain James A. Baker of Houston, 1857–1941 weaves together the history of Houston and the story of an influential man who labored all his life to make Houston a world-class city.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

As a child growing up in Houston, I was consistently reminded of my grandfather. I could not go very far in my hometown without seeing places that had been touched by his guiding hand. Close to my childhood home on Bissonnet Street was...

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Prologue: October 1912

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pp. 1-12

Captain James Addison Baker and his fellow trustees chose October 12, 1912, to inaugurate the William Marsh Rice Institute for the Advancement of Literature, Science, and Art. Board Chairman Baker and founding President Edgar Odell Lovett invited...

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Chapter One: Family Roots

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pp. 13-41

Trekking to Texas in the 1850s guaranteed danger, discomfort, and bad food. Travelers from the 1820s to the 1850s tell the same story. The journey was long—weeks, or even months—and arduous. Pioneers from Europe or states east of the Mississippi traveled...

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Chapter Two: Baker, Botts & Baker

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pp. 42-81

Judge Baker set out alone to seek his fortune in Houston, a small market town on a humid coastal bayou that had welcomed ambitious men and women since its founding in 1836. Rowena and the children remained in Huntsville for the next four...

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Chapter Three: On Trial

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pp. 82-127

Captain and Mrs. Baker spent a quiet New Year’s Day in 1900, awaiting the birth of their fourth child. On January 23, Walter Browne Baker, named for his father’s former partner Walter Browne Bott s, joined Graham...

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Chapter Four: Fulfilling the Trust

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pp. 128-176

Criminal proceedings against Albert T. Patrick and his accomplices made eye- catching headlines, but Captain James A. Baker focused on the tangle of civil cases filed by claimants hungry for the easy money a rich man’s estate promised...

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Chapter Five: Building Institutions

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pp. 177-220

Captain Baker applied the full force of his considerable emotional energy, intellectual ingenuity, and professional pride to a single, monumental quest from the moment a messenger handed him Charlie Jones’s telegram on Monday afternoon, September 23, 1900, until...

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Chapter Six: Citizen and Patriot

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pp. 221-262

Houston’s thriving commercial and industrial activity, fueled by oil exploration in the years before World War I, coincided with a vibrant civic life. Entrepreneurs who built new industries also created cultural and social service organizations to improve...

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Chapter Seven: Leader of Men

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pp. 263-311

Houston’s economy grew significantly during the 1920s. While other parts of the country suffered serious labor strikes in 1919, a deep recession in 1921, and a prolonged drought in the 1920s, Houston became a major industrial city because oil gradually replaced...

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Chapter Eight: Final Passages

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pp. 312-342

As the Depression tightened its grip on the world economy in 1930, Captain Baker turned seventy- three. For over half a century he had guided his law firm, and for nearly forty years he had loyally guarded William Marsh Rice’s Trust. At a time when many men relinquish...

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Epilogue: The Legacy

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pp. 343-348

Nearly one thousand relatives, friends, partners, business associates, and citizens “from every walk of life” crowded into The Oaks or filled the green lawns surrounding the house when Dr. Charles L. King, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, began his...

Appendix A: Chronology of Captain Baker’s Life

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pp. 349-357

Appendix B: Baker Botts L.L.P. and Its Predecessors

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pp. 359-360

Appendix C: Genealogical Charts

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pp. 361-364

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pp. 365-367

Biography is a treacherous art. While biographers may be able to outline a subject’s activities and accomplishments with some accuracy, their attempts to understand the inner mind—the feelings, emotions, intuitions, and passions...


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pp. 369-409

Works Consulted

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pp. 411-418


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pp. 419-435

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781603447973
E-ISBN-10: 1603447970
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603448000
Print-ISBN-10: 1603448004

Page Count: 480
Illustrations: 70 b&w photos. Appendix. Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Baker, James Addison, 1857-1941.
  • Lawyers -- Texas -- Houston -- Biography.
  • Bankers -- Texas -- Houston -- Biography.
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